Protecting Workers in Extreme Heat

Extreme heat during construction work is another potential hazard to the construction site.  Heat stress includes several heat-related illnesses; cramps, exhaustion, and heat rash. NIOSH distinguishes between classical heat stroke and exertional heat stroke.  Classical heat stroke, which is commonly seen in those with chronic illnesses or older people, is due to exposure to a hot, humid environment especially over the course of several days of exposure.  Exertional heat stroke, more commonly seen in the workplace, is caused by intense physical activity, especially workers who are not acclimated to high temperatures.  Type of activity (e.g., sedentary vs. strenuous exertion), individual characteristics (e.g., age, health status), and symptoms (e.g., dry skin vs. sweating) vary between these two classifications.  Several states, including California, Minnesota, and Washington have issued heat-specific regulations.  Cal/OSHA’s heat illness standard can be found in Title 8, Section 3395.  As reported in our Newsletter, Cal/OSHA is currently working on an indoor heat standard.

Observational indicators of heat stress can be used to help assess individual heat safety: alertness of workers (i.e., a casual conversation can help assess worker alertness); complaints of chronic fatigue; highly motivated workers that may push themselves too hard to try to outperform others; increased incident rates or near-hits; and occurrence of heat disorders (i.e. minor heat conditions such as heat cramps may indicate an increased potential for the occurrence of more serious events).

Workers, particularly in construction environments, can be exposed to excessively hot environmental conditions.  With proper anticipation and evaluation of the environment, implementation of good work practices, as well as worker screening and training, construction workers can continue to function in a safe and productive manner.